A GOAL-ORIENTED ATHLETE, as those who earn High School AOY honors tend to be, Colin Sahlman (Newbury Park, California), when asked to reminisce on his highlights-heavy senior season, admits, “Dang, I haven’t really thought about high school in a while cuz it’s just been mostly college focused.” (See box for the AOY voting.)
College focused at Northern Arizona, that is, where Sahlman has followed former Newbury Park teammate and star Nico Young on to the NCAA’s No. 3-rated cross country squad. Already this fall, Sahlman has contributed as fifth man (60th overall) to Mike Smith’s defending national champ Lumberjacks’ 3rd-place showing at the stacked Nuttycombe Invitational in his first collegiate race. More on that later.
But when it comes to his prep senior year, Sahlman could list a number of achievements as he ticks off the high points — including a December ’21 harrier race not considered by AOY voters because it wasn’t on the track.
At the RunningLane Cross Country Champs, he led a stupendous Newbury team win by clocking 14:03.29 for the 5K route, the fastest-ever by a prep for the distance.
Leading a prep harrier squad widely acclaimed as the greatest ever is one thing. Doing so and also racing an 800 in 1:48.07 as the final race of one’s senior season is another kind of feat altogether. We’re talking serious range.
“But,” Sahlman opines, “I’d say that definitely from the senior track season some of the key highlights would probably be that 4-by-mile and then the Prefontaine Classic.”
In the Pre Classic’s über-elite Bowerman Mile, Sahlman raced to a 13th-place finish in a field of pros led by all-worlder Jakob Ingebrigtsen. His time of 3:56.24 lifted him to No. 3 all-time on the HS list. Only national recordholder Alan Webb and ’60s wunderkind Jim Ryun ran faster as preps.
Sahlman’s relay memory surely glitters for others as well. No fan on hand at New York City’s Armory last winter to watch Newbury Park’s 4 x mile High School Record at the New Balance Indoor Nationals will soon forget it. With his brother Aaron and Nico Young’s twin siblings Leo and Lex Young preceding him, Sahlman wove through lapped traffic with a 58.27 finish on a 4:03.74 to bring the stick home in 16:29.31. The time obliterated the previous HSR by 32-plus seconds.
“We got to experience a relay as a team, and breaking that national record as a team, which was really cool,” Sahlman remembers. “We just decided to put one together, just go for it, and it was a super fun experience.”
The relay went down on the second weekend in March, by which time Sahlman — with prep teammates stirring up the all-time lists as well — had already raced 3:58.81, at the Armory’s Sander Invitational, moving to No. 5 all-time on the prep absolute compilation.
Like XC, relays are not taken into consideration in AOY voting. Didn’t matter. Sahlman was already well on his way with achievements that do count — even as he skipped the scholastic post-season and forewent his chance to win State titles.
Ultimately Sahlman’s racing pushed a miler to the top in the balloting for a second straight year following Hobbs Kessler’s ’21 coronation.
A week after Sander, outdoors on Azusa Pacific’s oval, Sahlman reeled off 8 laps in a 2M-equivalent 8:36.30 (8:33.32m) as he moved to No. 3 all-time at that distance. The Young brothers followed hot on his heels.
In April under the lights, and decidedly in the spotlight, at the Arcadia Invitational, Sahlman added the No. 8 all-time performance in the 8-lapper (8:37.96+).
“I only wanted to do a couple 3200s,” he says. “I mean, I liked the 3200, but the mile’s where my passion was at that year, I would say.”
Early in the spring Sahlman was invited to race in the Eugene DL’s vaunted Bowerman Mile, a blue chip fixture at the Pre meet every year.
Sahlman says, “It was a goal that I wanted to do at the beginning of the season and just going out there and being invited to it and being able to race it was super awesome. Competing against some of the top athletes in the world was incredible.” Ingebrigtsen — knowing firsthand what racing in the Pre crucible as a teen is like — embraced the young American after the finish.
The goal had been Webb’s HSR. Close but no cigar. Sahlman accepts that: “It was a great experience and I would not change that at all.”
For Sahlman — who per the LA Times also possesses the ability to identify aircraft models by the sound of their engines — running roots stretch down to his DNA.
He says, “My mom signed me up for track when I was in third grade because she ran collegiately at the University of Nebraska and Azusa Pacific.”
Chrystall Sahlman (née DeNaeyer), T&FN’s database shows, was a 2:07 performer in the 800 and won an NAIA indoor 1000 title for Azusa Pacific in ’00.
Sahlman continues, “So she wanted me to just try it out, try out the sport. I wasn’t very good my first year. I ran like the 400 or something.
“It wasn’t really until I got to high school when my coach — he’s now at UCLA — Sean Brosnan…” Sahlman pauses for a beat contemplating his prep mentor. “His mindset is very different than anything I’ve ever really come across except for obviously here at NAU.
“He said good isn’t really good. The goal was greatness, not just being good. So I think that when that was being taught to me I started to realize my potential and then I really started just not setting barriers. That’s something that we really preach at Newbury Park, just don’t set barriers. So I think my freshman year is when my mindset really changed for what is good and what is not.”
Not good in Sahlman’s first prep season was a false start in his only 3200: “I kind of like jumped the line a little bit and they just cut me off right there. And the video even showed I wasn’t the first one to do it, so — oh, well, it doesn’t really matter. My mile, I ran Arcadia, the Rising Stars Mile and won that in 4:16 as a freshman, and then my 800, I believe was 1:57.”
As a formative influence for Sahlman during that ’19 spring, there’s no underestimating the Nico factor — the eldest Young, then a junior and the national 2M leader at 8:43.02+.
“I remember after my race at, Arcadia my freshman year we waited the whole day there,” Sahlman says. “My race was in the morning, Nico’s race was at night. And I remember watching him win the 3200 in 8:40. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I wanna do that when I’m a junior’, because he did it when he was a [16-year-old] junior. And I ended up falling a little shy of that my junior year, 8:43, which is still really close so I was still very, very proud of it.
“Yeah, I just always wanted to be like Nico because his mindset was way different than anybody else’s on our team. And I think his mindset really transformed myself, the Young brothers and my brother as well.”
With his AOY season in the books and Lumberjack cross his passion du jour, Sahlman says he and Mike Smith, “haven’t talked track at all, honestly. It’s just when it’s cross country season, that’s the focus. When it’s track season, that’s a different story.
“I would definitely like to do some 1500s, though, just keep that speed in. But other than that I haven’t thought about it pretty much at all.”
And over hill and dale this autumn? “My goals for cross country this year are really just compete,” Sahlman says. “Nuttycombe was a good first experience of what the NCAA is like.
“I mean, coach told me to go out like top 30 and I thought I was there, but when it bottlenecked I just got shot out the back. I was in like 150th, so it was just complete inexperience.
“I feel like I can do a lot better than that moving on. I know how to approach getting out now, I would say. I think I have a good idea of what that is: pretty much put myself out there more towards the front and not try and work my way up.
“So pretty much just really compete at the front of the NCAA is my goal.”